Lawmakers Plot Protect Front Yard Vegetable Gardens

Feb 13, 2018
Originally published on February 12, 2018 5:40 pm

The state’s highest court will not weigh in on Floridians’ right to front yard vegetable gardens. But the food fight isn’t over in the state capital. 

On a small corner lot in a tree-lined neighborhood in Tallahassee, Zylfi Bardhi is growing a ton of peppers.

“These are sweet banana [peppers]. These are the best food in the world. Best food. These have Vitamin C pound for pound more than anything in the world,” Bardhi said.

Bardhi’s front yard is full of them. When WFSU spoke with him in 2016, there was no lawn to speak of, just rows and rows of bushes covered in hundreds of peppers.

A bill moving in the Legislature would protect Bardhi’s right to do exactly what he’s doing; grow vegetables in the front yard. Jacksonville Republican Senator Aaron Bean is cosponsoring a bill that would prevent local governments from outlawing front yard vegetable gardens.

“Just the sheer fact that they have a garden should stand. That is as American, I believe, as apple pie!” Bean said.

The bill is in response to a legal dispute between the village of Miami Shores and a local couple who cultivated rows of vegetables in their front yard. The town forced Hermine Ricketts and Laurence Carroll to uproot their garden, or pay fines. They eventually took Miami Shores to court.

“Just a few months ago the Third District Court of Appeals has said Floridians don’t have a right to have a garden in their front yard." Bean said in reference to the couple's failed appeal. "That’s what we’ve come to! That’s what we’ve come to! Homegrown gardens are outlawed."

Fausto Gomez represents the town.

“Resident had a vegetable garden in his front yard. Not an issue. That resident then expanded the vegetable garden to include all of his front yard, and the swale, which is the public property as well," Gomez said. "That became an issue at that moment because other residents in the neighborhood, zoned R-1 residential, said we basically don’t want to live in a residential area.”

The town wants to maintain a certain aesthetic. Local ordinances regulate the size of decorative landscaping stones residents can use. Meanwhile David Cruz with the Florida League of Cities is concerned about public health issues and…

“Competing private property rights concerns. And obviously I think that the goal here is we want to maintain property values high at the local level,” Cruz said.

Bill supporters jokingly paint as opponents as anti-vegetable and anti-American, with a vendetta against homegrown tomatoes. But in all seriousness, Longwood Republican Senator David Simmons thinks the bill language still needs some work. He says lawmakers should…

“Still give to the local governments the ability to reasonably regulate but not prohibit. Taking into consideration that I doubt that any one of us and many one of our neighborhoods would hate to have an entire front yard that’s done as a garden that’s got corn ten feet high," Simmons said.

Private property rights and the preemption of local control cause plenty of headaches in the state capitol. But lawmakers aren’t taking this issue too seriously. Committee hearings are usually pretty stuffy and procedural. But the debate on this bill has been unusually good-natured, even funny. Here’s Bean again.

“Members, this is a great sign, I just looked down. The bill number! 1776. It’s America! So stand with America. Stand with Senator Bradley. Let’s join together and say we are preserving our country’s core values and that’s the right to grow our own food,” Bradley said.

The Supreme Court has turned down the opportunity to hear the Miami Shores case. That means the town’s ordinances are safe for now.

But lawmakers say they’re still dedicated to protecting Floridians’ right to garden. They’re even turning to food puns. Lead sponsor Senator Rob Bradley tweeted this week, “I will keep fighting, kumquat may...” The bill has one more committee stop before it goes to the floor. 

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